Weekend Guide to Trondheim
While Norway’s fjords dominate the tourist brochures, many Swedes head to Trondheim for an enjoyable city break with less crowds. Trondheim-based British expat and travel writer David Nikel shows us around his adopted home city, which is easily accessible from Stockholm thanks to direct daily flights from SAS.
Around 1,000 years ago, Trondheim was the most important city in Norway. Founded in 997 by Olav Trygvasson, the Viking King who kick-started Norway’s conversion to Christianity, Trondheim is littered with sites of historical interest. Many refer to the city by its former name Nidaros, while references to its founder Olav Trygvasson, and also to Saint Olav (Olav Haraldsson) can be found throughout the city.
The world’s northernmost medieval cathedral
Start your history lesson with a tour of one of Norway’s most famous buildings. With a strong resemblance to medieval England’s Lincoln and Wells Cathedrals, Nidaros Cathedral is hard to miss.
The structure took hundreds of years to build and has been rebuilt and restored many times over the centuries. To this day, pilgrims walk great distances across Scandinavia to visit Nidaros and pay their respects to Saint Olav, who is said to be buried inside.
Its striking west front captivates visitors who all too often get neck-ache from staring at the remarkable collection of statues, sculptures and gargoyles adorning the entrance wall. The stunning collection of art is said to represent the diversity of God’s creation.
Inside the Cathedral, the octagon and surrounding ambulatory is the oldest part of the building still intact. Don’t miss the opportunity to go up the tower for a spectacular view of the otherwise low-rise downtown area, but also down into the crypt. Here, you can explore a collection of marble headstones from the Middle Ages, if you can stand the feeling of claustrophobia, that is.
More than just a cathedral
Many visitors take a quick look at the West Front, tour the perimeter and then zip off into a café. Big mistake! For me the most interesting part of the cathedral complex lies next door in the Archbishop’s Palace. The archaeological museum is home to some original relics from the Cathedral and tells the fascinating tale of its construction and restoration through a series of exhibits and a subtitled movie.
Such is the importance of the Cathedral to Norway that this day coronations are still held here, the last one being the current King Harald V back in 1991. As such, it’s also the home of the gleaming crown jewels. Fun fact: The King’s crown – made of gold with amethysts, pearls and tourmaline, lined with a red velvet cap – was made in Stockholm in 1818.
Trondheim’s unique old town
Just a few minutes’ walk away from the Cathedral is the charming old district of Bakklandet, known for its cobbled streets and wonky wooden houses. Originally built in the 17th century to house traders, factory workers, and fishermen, the district’s wooden houses are today home to cafes, restaurants, boutiques, and some of the city’s most desirable apartments. Pull up a chair and watch the world go by.
To get there from Nidaros Cathedral, head across the Old Town Bridge (Gamle Bybro), which has an incredible power to make everyone stop and take a photo. Without doubt Trondheim’s most photographed spot, the bridge crosses the Nidelva river, lined on both sides by colorful wooden buildings on stilts.
Shocking as it may seem, the area was nearly demolished in the 1970s to make way for a new four-lane highway to bypass the city center. Thankfully common sense prevailed, but only after a decade of grassroots lobbying from groups of concerned residents.
Strong musical heritage
Trondheim isn’t known internationally for its music but it has quite the reputation within Norway, so much so that the national contemporary music museum is based here. Housed in a former grain warehouse in a largely industrial area north of downtown, Rockheim leads you through a musical journey from the 1950s to the present, profiling Norwegian and international artists with fun interactive exhibits.
Fans of more traditional music won’t be disappointed either. Take a short bus ride to the beautiful country estate and botanical gardens that are home to the Ringve Music Museum, which houses over 2,000 musical instruments from around the world.
Do you prefer a party?
For those who prefer events, Trondheim has plenty of those too. The biggest is the annual celebration of history, music and culture known as the St. Olav festival. Over 150,000 visitors attend the festival, which includes a series of concerts, live entertainment, and an excellent medieval craft market.
Although it has a religious history, the festival has a rich and varied cultural program that is suitable for everyone, regardless of faith.
Fans of contemporary music should check out the annual Pstereo summer festival in a gorgeous riverside setting, and the Trondheim Calling festival of unsigned bands, held in early February.
Trondheim won’t ever draw the crowds of Bergen or the fjords, but that’s just fine with me!